IBM Lotus Sametime tops corporate IM platform review

Jabber and Cisco follow as close seconds in test of corporate IM platforms

In this Clear Choice Test of corporate IM platform IBM Lotus Sametime tops competing products from Jabber, Microsoft, Gordano, Jive Software and Serial Scientific Intl by providing a plethora of communication options, integration with other IM products, ease of use, scalability and security.

Messaging has come a long way from the early days of rudimentary chat programs, the DOS and Windows "NET SEND" command and the Novell NetWare "SEND" command.

The ideal corporate instant-messaging environment lets users communicate anything they choose, from simple typed messages to documents to video. It tells employees which colleagues are available for an impromptu meeting and which don't wish to be disturbed. The ideal IM environment offers impenetrable security that thwarts intrusion attempts, as well as IM-borne malware. It's nimble and responsive; intuitive to use and administer; and integrates seamlessly with other IM products and protocols, such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

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Preferably, it safely archives IM sessions for easy retrieval by an auditor, is highly scalable, exhibits rock-solid reliability and uses network resources frugally. A corporate IM product taps into a Windows Active Directory or a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) back end for grouping and authenticating users. And finally, it provides the necessary VoIP capabilities to turn a chat session easily into a telephone call.

In short, the model platform makes holding meetings via IM as productive as - or even better than - meeting face to face.

To test the state of corporate IM tools we invited all vendors in this space to send products. We received Extensible Communications Platform (XCP) 5.2 from Jabber, Lotus Sametime 7.5.1 from IBM and Openfire Enterprise Edition 3.2 from Jive Software. We downloaded Gordano Messaging Suite (GMS) 5.0 from Gordano's FTP site and Mirador Instant Messenger for Windows 3.0 from Serial Scientific International's (SSI) Web site, and we accessed Cisco's WebEx AIM Pro Business Edition via the Internet.

Microsoft also plays in this space with its older Live Communications Server 2005 platform and will be forging ahead with enterprise IM as part of its Office Communication Server platform running on Exchange 2007. As this product was still in beta during our testing Window and won't be available until next month, we could not include it in our head to head test. We have, however, test early beta code to help give readers a feel for what they can expect from this unified messaging platform. (See OCS tests here and here.)

ProductLotus Sametime 7.5.1Extensible Communications Platform (XCP) 5.2WebEx AIM Pro Business Edition
Price as tested$56.75 per user.$35 per user.$$5 per user, per month (subscription).
ProsFeature-rich, secure, well integrated with other applications, such as Microsoft office.Interoperable with AOL Instant Messenger, secure, scalable.Internet-based service (if you prefer outsourcing), good Active Directory integegration, good security.


Needs to integrate better with Outlook and other mail readers.Probably not for you if you have slow or unrealiable Internet links, or you dislike outsourcing.
ProductOpenfire Enterprise Edition 3.2Gordano Messaging Suite (GMS) 5.0Mirador Instant Messemger for Windows 3.0
VendorJive SoftwareGordanoSerial Scientific International
Price as tested$15 per user.GMS Instant Messaging, $450; GMS Collaboration, $950; GMS Mail, $450; and GMS Archive, $1,110. All prices listed are for 25 users.Starts at $335 for 10 users.
ProsExcellent "chat with an agent now" instant-messaging environment.Presence includes geographic location, good integration with Outlook.Excellent remote-control tool, switches easily between IM and VoIP conversations.
ConsNot highly scalable.Not interoperable with other IM environments (by design).Windows-centric, documentation too brief.
The breakdown IBM Lotus SametimeJabber Extensible Communications PlatformCisco WebEx AIM Pro Business EditionJive Software Openfire Enterprise EditionGordano Messaging SuiteSerial Scientific Mirador Instant Messenger for Windows
Messaging 20%554443
Security 20%555343
Ease of use 20%544333
Interoperability 20%555423
Special features 10%544333
Documentation/installation 10%445332
Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Subpar or not available

IBM Lotus Sametime earned our Clear Choice Award for its superior messaging, high level of integration with other applications, ease of use, scalability and excellent security. Nearly as excellent and carrying a much lower price tag is Jabber's XCP. Cisco's WebEx AIM Pro is a great choice if you prefer to outsource server operations and your users have reliable Internet connections.

IBM Lotus Sametime

Sametime is a feature-rich environment for network-based collaboration and conferencing. It consists of the Sametime Server and client-based Sametime Connect software. Users can message each other via Sametime Connect or a Web browser, or from within Lotus Notes. Sametime Connect also can be launched directly and easily from within Microsoft Office and Outlook. All these points of entry worked well in the lab.

Sametime's messaging interoperated seamlessly via IBM-supplied gateways with AIM, GoogleTalk and XCP. Setting up these gateways involved installing the software on Internet-accessible servers and, in the case of AIM, installing a digital certificate to authorize the IM traffic.

Sametime's security used 128-bit encryption for data privacy, and users were authenticated against LDAP, or Lotus Domino servers if we specified. Our Sametime hacking attacks - which included robot password crackers and, for eavesdropping, protocol analyzers - were futile. Sametime also kept IM-borne spyware and spam from annoying our users. Furthermore, IBM says it soon will change its encryption method to be compliant with the Federal Information Processing Standard 140.

Its reliance on LDAP or Domino for user authentication made administering Sametime simple. For example, we only had to publish the Sametime server's name, set up policies to allow or disallow file transfers, specify which users couldn't use the AOL gateway, specify the number of days to save IM transcripts and set a maximum image size for IM-transmitted screen captures. Additionally, Sametime let us search the IM archive by date or user for auditing purposes.

In our stress tests, Sametime never used more than 8% of the available bandwidth, which made it nearly as resource frugal as Jabber's XCP. IBM uses Sametime internally and claims it needs only four servers to support its 380,000 worldwide employees, who send 5 million messages each day.

Sametime's set of features is rich yet child's play to use, mostly because IBM gave it user-oriented conveniences. For example, Sametime changes a user's "presence" automatically to "in a meeting" when the user's Notes or Outlook calendar indicates there is a meeting scheduled. When users are away from their PCs for a specifiable period of time, Sametime automatically marks their presence as "away." And it adds a system tray icon that makes changing presence quick and painless. Sametime's presence concept, in addition to denoting that a user is away, busy or in a meeting, reveals geographic-location data, so users know colleagues' time zones. It even lets users specify they are available to some users but busy to others. Going beyond text messaging to share documents, images and video is easy in Sametime, and it integrates with VoIP to make switching from typed messages to a phone conversation (multiple party, if you like) completely transparent.

Sametime's Web conferencing automatically captures details of who attended a meeting and a transcript of the meeting. It offers breakout sessions within the overall Web conference, and users can tell Sametime to switch to off-the-record mode to prevent anyone from saving information they've typed but don't want attributed to them.

The Sametime server software, which requires that Lotus Domino be installed, runs on IBM's AIX and i5/OS, Linux (Red Hat and Novell's SUSE), Sun Solaris, and Microsoft Windows Server 2000 and 2003.

Extending Sametime with custom programming to integrate, for example, with an in-house written application is easy through its well-documented programming interface. With less than a day's programming, we added Sametime awareness via presence and contact names to a Visual Basic program.

Sametime's copious printed documentation is clear and comprehensive, and even includes a "Sametime for Dummies" booklet. Installation took less than an hour.

Jabber Extensible Communications Platform

XCP had an impressive range of features; scaled extremely well in a linear fashion; and integrated well with other IM environments, such as AIM (via Jabber's AIM Gateway) and Lotus Sametime (via a Sametime gateway).

XCP consists of a Connection Manager, Jabber Session Manager and Core Router. Client connections, gateways and server-to-server connections go through Connection Managers. The Jabber Session Manager processes sessions for individual clients, as well as presence and roster data. All components communicate through Core Routers.

The server software runs on Windows Server 2000 and 2003, Red Hat Linux and Solaris.

Jabber's platform authenticates users rigorously. XCP exhibits excellent security with respect to authentication and confidentiality. Using Simple Authentication and Security Layer, XCP verifies the identity of each client. Because the XCP server validates ("stamps") sender addresses, hackers can't spoof addresses to insert themselves into the XCP environment. And Transport Layer Security (TLS) ensures no eavesdropping of messages occurs. XCP even blocked spyware and IM spam.

XCP stores registration, authentication, user lists, electronic business cards and offline message data in an Oracle database (supplied by the IT department); and it can access user data stored in LDAP or Active Directory repositories. We tested the Oracle storage option, which was easy to set up and use.

XCP uses XML within the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) to send and receive messages. We were able to efficiently and easily exchange messages and files, including video, through XCP's IM environment. XCP's VoIP integration, which let us switch from keyboard to voice and back again, also worked well. Because GoogleTalk also is based on XMPP, XCP clients can send and receive messages to and from GoogleTalk clients without needing a separate gateway. In our tests, XCP communicated seamlessly with GoogleTalk and AIM via the included Session Initiation Protocol/SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIP/SIMPLE) gateway.

XCP's browser-based administrative console was intuitive to navigate and responsive. We used it to authorize users and groups for access to the AIM gateway, monitor the running of Connection Managers, and specify the severity level of XCP syslog entries. Simulating an audit, we searched XCP's message archive by date and user to examine the content of IM sessions.

Jabber claims that a single XCP server, configured with a pool of Connection Managers for controlling client/server sessions and linked to a single Oracle server, can support 2 million subscribers and 100,000 concurrent sessions with a latency of less than 0.29 seconds. Our stress tests, which subjected XCP to a barrage of messages from a simulated 1,000 clients, showed XCP used a meager 6% to 7% of available bandwidth.

XCP users can set their presence, which is displayed next to each contact name, to available, away or do not disturb.

Launching an XCP-based Web conference in the lab was a breeze. XCP interfaced easily with Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional, Cisco Unified MeetingPlace and WebEx. For mobile users, Jabber offers a client module for Research In Motion BlackBerry users, which also worked well.

XCP comes with a comprehensive programming interface for customers who want to customize or extend XCP's capabilities. The clear, easy-to-follow soup-to-nuts documentation is in printed form, and installation is a snap.

WebEx AIM Pro Business Edition

WebEx (purchased by Cisco last March) maintains IM servers to which corporate users can connect via a browser-based client module over the Internet. From anywhere on the Internet, you can log onto WebEx AIM Pro and chat with other employees or business partners.

WebEx handles all the messy details of server operation, such as monitoring utilization and making sure servers are up and running. While this can be a big advantage for customers who like to outsource server operations, it also can be a disadvantage. We had to trust WebEx to make its IM services always available and safely make backup copies of IM session archives.

Corporate Internet connections must be alive and well to use WebEx AIM Pro. To share files (especially video streams) reasonably fast Internet links (512Kbps or faster) are needed. Moreover, if some employees lack Internet connections - perhaps they're insulated from public access for security purposes - they won't be able to use WebEx AIM Pro.

WebEx AIM Pro works closely with WebEx's other offerings, such as the vendor's primary product, Web-based conferencing. Launching a WebEx conference session from within the IM client took just one mouse click. WebEx AIM Pro integrated with our Outlook calendars and address books to know, for example, when a person was in a meeting or otherwise away from his desk. From within a messaging session, we could share documents and even video clips easily. It also supports switching instantly from a messaging session to a VoIP-based phone conversation. Via WebEx-maintained gateway servers, WebEx AIM Pro gave us seamless access to AIM users.

We particularly appreciated WebEx's tools for batch uploading of user and group data from our Active Directory tree, and we could use our Outlook address books to initiate WebEx AIM Pro sessions as if the contacts were already in it. WebEx maintains message archives that administrators can search and download to ensure compliance with applicable laws.

Security consists of 128-bit SSL encryption for confidentiality, as well as password-challenge authentication by WebEx. The WebEx IM servers automatically scan messaging traffic for viruses, worms and other malware. They also block IM-based spam - unsolicited messaging sessions initiated from outside your network.

WebEx's online documentation is clear and comprehensive, and installation of the client module is a snap - no server installation is needed.

Jive Software Openfire Enterprise Edition

Openfire Enterprise Edition (formerly called CrossFire) is a commercial version of the open source Openfire server software. The Enterprise Edition - which requires Java 5 support and typically runs on Windows XP/2000/2003, Linux, Solaris and Apple's Mac OS X - adds such features to the open source version as a Web client, SIP softphone, more sophisticated reporting, better client management, message bookmarking and message archiving.

The commercial version also sports what Jive Software terms Spark Skinning, which lets users customize the look and feel of the chat client; and Fastpath, which automatically routes chat requests to the next available agent. Fastpath impressed us as we used it to transfer chat sessions, invite others to join a chat, set up canned responses and maintain a chat history.

Administering Openfire was painless. We viewed statistics on active users and conversations, monitored group chat rooms and searched through message archives by date, user and keywords. We created what Jive Software calls chat bookmarks, which tell users about each chat room's purpose and subject matter. We applied these bookmarks at our option to individual users, groups or all users. Openfire uses a published database schema and includes an embedded database. We used the schema to connect Openfire to Oracle; Jive Software says you also can use MySQL, SQL Server, Postgres, DB2 or Sybase Adaptive Server.

Openfire is XMPP-based and interoperates easily with other IM environments, such as XCP and GoogleTalk. Openfire includes a public-gateway software module so users can have messaging sessions with AIM users, for example.

Openfire's Java underpinning limits its performance and scalability. Our stress tests revealed that although Openfire's network use was less than 10%, it consumed considerable server CPU - 40% to 70%.

Openfire's security relies on the provisions within XMPP (primarily TLS), and the Openfire server makes certificate management a simple affair. With a little programming and setup effort, we linked Openfire to an LDAP server and to Active Directory. Jive Software says Openfire also can use native Windows or Unix Pluggable Authentication Modules authentication.

Jive Software's presence flag, which appears in the Web client's contact list, tells you whether another person is online, offline or typing. The IM Web client is a snap to navigate and use, and the bookmarks make finding the right chat room a breeze.

We found Openfire best suited for the sort of Web-based customer interaction that uses links that say, "Click now to chat with an agent." For example, in one test, we used Openfire's Fastpath to route chat requests efficiently to a pool of agents waiting for customer queries. It's less useful for intracompany employee conferencing and collaboration. To its credit, however, Openfire integrated with Microsoft Outlook's calendar, and its VoIP integration let us turn a messaging session into a phone call with a single mouse click.

Its online documentation is comprehensive but lacking in detail with respect to some server operations. Installation takes just a few minutes.

Gordano Messaging Suite

You can pick and choose the IM features you want to deploy across your network from this suite of well-integrated software components. We tested GMS Instant Messaging (GMS IM), the cornerstone module, as well as GMS Collaboration, GMS Mail, GMS Anti-Spam and GMS Archive. These are optional modules that added conferencing, e-mail, avoidance of unacceptable topics and message storage to our IM environment. The suite runs on Windows NT/SP/2000, Solaris, AIX and Linux.

GMS IM offers a native Windows client and a Java-based client. Their look and feel are similar, and both worked well in the lab. With each client, we opened chat sessions, sent messages, managed our contact lists and worked on documents with other users via GMS Collaboration. Gordano's presence flag, which appears in either client's contact list, informs you whether a contact is online and - when used with Microsoft Outlook's calendar - whether the person is in a meeting. GMS IM also shows location information based on IP-address geolocation (knowing where on a network particular IP addresses are located). GMS IM lacks VoIP integration.

In addition to directly launching the Windows or Java-based IM client to begin an IM session, a user also can start the Windows IM client from within Outlook, or the Java IM client from within Gordano WebMail. Via GMS Archive, GMS IM stored transcripts of our test IM sessions and e-mailed the transcript at our request to all session participants at the session's conclusion.

GMS administration is rudimentary. For example, the GMS console did not show us real-time traffic statistics that we could use to monitor IM activity. And we had to write a custom program to search the archives to audit for IM content.

GMS IM used a moderate 9% to 12% of network bandwidth during our stress tests.

GMS IM's security consists of transaction (session) logging, which let us investigate IM hacking attempts by searching the logs for unauthorized users. GMS IM's native Windows authentication and Active Directory authentication worked well in the lab. GMS IM also incorporates a virus filter and a spam filter, both of which thwarted our attempts to attack it.

Gordano deliberately engineered GMS IM to not work with other IM environments, such as AIM and GoogleTalk. The company says this approach helps its corporate customers keep employees from chatting with friends and family while at work. However, unless the company sets firewall rules against it, employees can still access AIM or GoogleTalk as separate, nonauthorized applications.

The online documentation is unremarkable, and installation takes less than an hour.

Mirador Instant Messenger for Windows

Geared especially to Windows-centric companies, MIM consists of a server component that runs on Windows 2000/2003/XP Pro and a client component that runs on Windows 98/ME/2000/XP.

We used MIM's central console to set up IM users and passwords, group users by department, search the IM archive by date and user, and view current IM activity levels. The central console also let us configure clients by individual user or group to allow or disallow starting a remote control session or a document collaboration session. We also could set a maximum message size.

Using MIM for messaging is straightforward. A user clicks on another user's contact-list entry to initiate a chat, which MIM then establishes if the target's presence flag is set to available (other values are busy and offline). Once in a chat session, a user can start MIM's remote control feature or transfer files to other users, if these actions are authorized by the administrator. Besides contact-based messaging, MIM lets users switch from messaging to VoIP-based conversations, and has a feature the company terms co-browsing - distributing office documents or Web pages to other session participants and collaborating on changes to those documents. This worked well because Microsoft Office versions 2003 and later support online collaboration. MIM's remote control feature was especially useful in online training sessions.

MIM's network use was 8% in our stress tests.

MIM authenticates users against its own internally maintained user list. Its security features let us restrict the file types circulated, and MIM includes a message audit feature that helped reveal the contact names of people who attempted to compromise the IM environment. We also could limit the IP address ranges of MIM clients to ensure access only by users known to be on our network. For the sake of confidentiality, MIM uses SSL to encrypt messages. However, it lacked virus, spyware and messaging-spam filters.

MIM's online documentation is too brief to guide administrators and users through all the product's functions. Installation takes a few minutes.


We unreservedly and heartily recommend IBM Lotus Sametime for IM in a corporate setting. It is feature-rich, intuitive to use, highly scalable and platform neutral. Jabber's high-quality XCP also is worth investigating, especially because of its lower pricing. If you want to put a "chat with an agent now" link on your company's Web site, Jive Software's Openfire may be just what the doctor ordered. With WebEx AIM Pro, you can outsource IM server operation and still get a full-featured IM environment.

Nance runs Network Testing Labs and is the author of Introduction to Networking, 4th Edition, and Client/Server LAN Programming. He can be reached at

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Barry Nance is also a member of the Network World Lab Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers in the network industry each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Lab Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to

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